Letting Your Kids Learn Through Failure

By dadsplay at January 9, 2011 | 9:16 pm | Print

Letting Your Kids Learn Through Failure

It’s tough being a parent. It’s tough trying to figure out parenthood throughout all of the
different stages our kids go through. Whether it’s helping them to walk, starting school,
discipline issues, driving, or college, we are continually faced with new challenges and
even with multiple children; the same stage has different challenges as each child can
be so different. One aspect that is often overlooked is letting your child fail. I’ve found
this to be an extremely volatile topic for different parents. I knew one parent that did not
allow her seven year old son to cook anything, even with her supervision. I’ve let my six
year old daughter get out a drill to install a shelf. A shelf!! When looking at why each
parent made the choice they did, the common theme was the same…failure.

Cooking mom said she was afraid her daughter would mess up dinner (fail) or get hurt by
the stove or a hot pan. I used a stud finder and verified no electrical wires were anywhere
near the drilling site and showed my daughter how to mark a stud by marking the first
one for her. I felt she would learn more from trying it herself and build her confidence if
she succeeded and she would learn a lot even if she messed it up (failed).

Each parent had very different approaches to thoughts about their child failing. Should
you let your child fail? If so, how do you know when it’s appropriate to let them do so?
As your child goes through life, they WILL fail. You can’t always be there to stop it, but
you can teach them how to prepare to mitigate the failure as well as help them cope with
failure when it does occur. When letting a child fail, the one thing we all must remain
alert to is dangerous situations that can cause serious harm to our children. Bumps and
bruises are part of growing up as evidenced by my youngest daughter who has taken
a long time to learn that you can’t run in one direction while looking in a completely
different direction…

I tried to mitigate the danger (by checking for electrical wiring near the drill site) and
preparing my daughter for success by also showing her how to find the stud for the
second brace. She will still have to learn how to drill straight, make the holes even in the
stud for a level shelf and screw everything into place. My daughter had ‘helped’ me do a
few other projects with the drill and had shown an excellent understanding of the drill, so
I felt she should have a chance to try using it. While she was making the attempt, I had
to step in twice (at her request) to assist, but you should have seen the look on her face
when it was done and the pride she exuded that SHE had done that. From the pure adult
perspective, the shelf was too low to the ground, it wasn’t level and one of the screws
may have missed the stud (or only partially in due to the angle of the screw hole), but it
didn’t matter, even if it’s not perfect, it’s HER success more than anything else. Now
the purist in me asks, why not let her fail by not stepping in, but as long as I don’t step in
ahead of the request from my daughter, I’m allowing her the ‘opportunity’ to fail.

Cooking mom’s concerns, about her son getting hurt, are completely valid. No one
wants to see their child hurt, but the question here becomes how long does your child
need to prove they’re capable of accomplishing a task before we let them attempt the
task on their own? I know to watch out for a burning stove and hot pans, but have still

burnt myself. Odds are her son will get burned at some point in his adult life as well. I
asked her if he had ever helped with the cooking and he had on a number of occasions.
If cooking mom has taught him to be aware of the hot pans and he has shown this
awareness, what’s the harm in letting him fail at cooking dinner? She can be available to
him by staying in the kitchen or nearby, she has a great opportunity to let him succeed,
but also can also help him learn to cope with the failure if he does fail.

None of us like to fail and we certainly don’t want to see our kids fail either, but they
will….just like we do on occasion. You can’t stop failure from happening all the time,
but you can teach your children how to prepare to minimize failure. You can teach them
to be aware of the challenges/dangers of attempting something new and probably most
important, if they do fail, that it’s ok. The world won’t end, the failure doesn’t define
them, most likely they’ll be able to fix whatever went wrong. Your children want to try.
Let them. Encourage them….and if they fail, teach them that it’s ok.

RS Pierce

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